Tag Archive: vietnam

I was talking with my friend Cathy the other day about how we were stuffing all our luggage with gifts – used clothes, candies, toys and games – to bring to Vietnam and distribute among our family members.

She nods in understanding, “Hah, my family does that too. Immigrant families.”

This is how the luggage-packing ritual goes.

In the weeks before leaving for Vietnam, we slowly sorted and gathered all the clothing we had outgrown/were no longer wearing. We proceeded to transport (and abandon) them in their new home: our basement. We went all over department stores – Walmart, Sears, etc. looking for toys and games on sale, things that the kids might like.

On sale specifically, because my family is big. Really big. When the shopping list is for some 16-odd kids, their parents, their parents, and the odd extended relative, the cost of all those gifts quickly adds up. (And as we all know, the rule is: if you buy something for one of them, you have to get something for all of them).

Anyways, once we had gathered everything we wanted to pack up in the basement, we sorted the items out to see if each family member had at least one gift. It became a sort of mad, desperate Christmas-like distribution. (Oh, oh, did we buy something for Mei? Do you think Yuen will be able to wear this?). Once we had double (and triple) checked that we had everything in place, we re-sorted the items, to be grouped together by family units/households.

Now if that wasn’t already stressful enough, here came the hard part: fitting EVERYTHING into our luggage. Welcome to 3D Tetris. Multiplied by 12, for all the luggage, suitcases, carry-ons, and over weight items we were bringing. Did I mention how many times we had to weigh everything to make sure they weren’t over the limit?

Suddenly, I’m debating which of my essentials I can leave behind for a month. The argument in my head sounds like: “Is this an essential essential, or a non-essential essential? Hm, guess that’s one less shirt or pair of pants. I guess I can buy that stuff when I get there. I hope their clothes fit.” Good grief, I sounded crazy.

But after many weeks of work and planning, it was done. And, success! We weren’t charged for extra weight at the airport!

Let’s hope we don’t lose anything on the way…

So, what’s your packing session like before a big trip? How did your last one go? Have you ever (cringe) been charged for going over the weight limit, or lost luggage on the way?
Sometimes, there just isn't enough space

Sometimes, there just isn’t enough space

Photo Credit: Rob Faulkner


While I was in Vietnam, a neighbour’s dog was killed after being hit by a motorcycle. It was a hit-and-run: the motorcyclist just sped away. It happened so quickly, I don’t think the dog’s owners even got a license plate number. Even if they did, I don’t know if it would have made a difference: I’m not exactly sure what the laws regarding animal rights are in Vietnam (if any). Perhaps if any litigation occurred, it might be classified under “property.”

Could this have been prevented? You might wonder why the dog wasn’t being supervised, or at least put on a leash. It’s just not common practice in Vietnam. In the same way you might let your cat wander the neighbourhood, both dogs and cats are left free to roam. There are some wild cats and dogs that wander the streets, too. They walk by the roadsides, looking for scraps to eat.

Dog on Streets

Pets aren’t always taken care of the way they are in Canada – that’s just how it is. Even at my uncle, who owns a cat (that would be New Orangey, see Sad Tale of Kitty), doesn’t take care of it the way we might in Canada. The cat is free to wander the neighbourhood and isn’t given a food bowl – it eats food scraps left under restaurant tables, or in our kitchen at home.

As far as I’ve seen, there aren’t any vets around (I know they’re somewhere, they just don’t seem well-advertised and are difficult to find). There’s no pet food sold at the major supermarkets either, at least from what I’m aware of – again, the animals can eat scraps from dinner, or look for something on the streets.


Why the lack of animal rights?

I heard a story of a rich lady who lived nearby. She owned a dog and would feed it expensive cuts of meat (not dog food, meat). That would already be pretty expensive in Canada, so who knows how she could have afforded that in Vietnam? When beggars went to her house, asking for food, she would refuse them. My cousin was describing the situation like a big joke. How could someone choose to feed a dog over a person?

I guess the mentality is: if there are so many people around you who are poor or starving, how can you afford to care 100% for a pet? (Oh, PETA would have a heart attack). At the same time, Vietnam’s pet industry is growing. Dogs are seen as symbols of wealth and status, and the demand for imported pet products continues to increase. Even discussions on owning a pet in Vietnam is growing: check out these blogs, Pet Industry in Vietnam and Vietnam Pets, on the challenges faced by pet owners in Vietnam.

Don’t get me wrong – I love animals. But should their needs take precedence over people? Your thoughts?

Here’s another round of Tips, and things to prepared for when you set foot in VN:

Expect to be poked fun at for your weight.

Not so much with strangers, but if you have family or friends, well…

I’m a pretty average weight here in Canada. But boy, in Vietnam, I’m a freaking an elephant. I fit size XXL shirts and tops there. Don’t even get me started on pants. While shopping one time, I decided to try a pair on. Needless to say, I struggled (I pulled them up to my knees before I gave up).

Looking back at all the group pictures, the size of my leg always looks about the same as my cousin’s torso. It’s rather depressing.

Don’t get upset! They can laugh all they want. I like to think I’m well-nourished.

Do not publicly display your support for democracy.

Before we visited Vietnam last year, my brother was packing his clothes. He was picking out t-shirts when he came across one with the Democratic Vietnamese flag (yellow with three horizontal red stripes – it was the flag of South Vietnam before the Vietnam War and represents the Vietnamese who support democracy or live in democratic nations). My mom started joking: “You can’t wear that in Vietnam, they’ll shoot you on sight.”

Yes, the locals know you support democracy (coming from Canada, the United States, etc.), but that doesn’t mean actively flaunting your belief system in Communist Vietnam. Maybe you won’t get shot, but it could still get you into trouble with the officials.

Seriously. Don’t do it.

Saigon vs Ho Chi Minh City

Perhaps there is some confusion on what exactly to call that city, since both names are used. To explain: Saigon is the original name used for Vietnam’s previous capital. They renamed Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City in 1976 (following the Vietnam War), after the leader of the Communist Party of Vietnam. You’ll still see both names used. While Ho Chi Minh City is the official name, a majority of the locals still call it Saigon. You’ll also see Saigon used in travel brochures, bus transportation, and so on. By the way, the Vietnamese who fled overseas after the Vietnam War never call it Ho Chi Minh City (see Saigon, not Ho Chi Minh City). So, safest bet to prevent offence is to use Saigon, at least until the other person uses the name Ho Chi Minh City themselves.

Be careful where you put your generosity.

To illustrate why, here’s something that happened to me:

A man approaches me and begs for some money. My cousin Phat takes me by the arm and starts leading me away. When we’re out of earshot, Phat says:

“That guy has a job, but he comes to this street corner everyday to panhandle.”

“Oh yeah? How do you know?”

“I see him leave work, then he comes here afterwards. He makes a lot of extra money that way.”

“Huh! Con men like him.”

My cousin sighs, “Yeah, he makes more money than I do.”

So what do you know? A rich panhandler. You’ve just got to be careful that your generosity isn’t wasted and is actually going to help someone in need.

Want to share some other tips on staying alive abroad?

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